One of the really cool and exciting things about the rise of the mobile platform is that, by definition, they can be used almost anywhere. This greatly impacts the scale and scope of educational opportunities for organizations looking to get their programs (literally) into the hands of a curious public.
So imagine the opportunities for science organizations looking to encourage self-guided discovery by the public, or adding information from the field into their research databases. In the 19th and early 20th century, science was often conducted by private citizens, whose curiosity (and private funds) allowed them to go out and collect information about the natural world. They kept logs, collected specimens, and wrote papers about what they found. Later in the century, these efforts were concentrated in museums and universities, and the academic perception was that the collection of scientific data was only valid if performed by highly-trained experts.
Now, in the Information Age, access to this data is easier than ever before, and a curious public is eager to learn and contribute their findings back to various bodies of knowledge. With mobile apps, the potential for great warehouses of scientific data, collected from backyards, beaches, mountains, and public parks, is enormous. And even if the app is not designed to collect data, the immediacy of the world means a question can be asked and an answer received in short order.
Back here at BPOC, we’ve begun exploring such apps, and two of our Wounded Warrior interns, Mitchel McCullough and John Donner, and volunteer Sam Trusley, reviewed 14 different citizen science apps. Their descriptions and notes are below the cut. And if you have a favorite app or opinions about the ones listed below, please share it in the comments!
Product Description: Project Noah lets you document the wildlife around you. It is a tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere. You can post a new spotting, upload photos, tag plants and animals with location data, join missions, and earn patches. The app also contains a field guide to help you identify the wildlife you find.
Maker: Yasser Ansari, Martin Ceperley, Peter Horvath, and Bruno Kruse (with investment support from National Geographic)
Compatibility: Website, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android
Region covered: Global
Intern Review: This application strikes me as the most complete in terms of an overall user experience. You must create an account in order to be allowed to use this application. Don’t worry it’s free. There are four sections on the home screen, “my spottings,” “my missions,” “my patches,” and “settings.” The first category is a list of all your observations and photos of wildlife and plants; you can also see all of their locations on a Google map. Like Sci.Spy, there are missions that are created by the application makers and other users for you to fulfill. Once you choose a mission, it appears under the “my missions” section in list format. My favorite feature, and the feature that I think makes this application rewarding and interactive is “my patches.” For each spotting you upload or mission you complete you receive a digital nature page, kind of like being in the boy scouts or girl scouts. I think this feature creates a really nice system of reward and will give users incentive to upload more content.
Product Description: SciSpy is a mobile and web-based app, created by Science Channel, which enlists science enthusiasts to participate in the creation of real science by becoming mobile field observers. Using a free iPhone app or Web-based program, you can upload your photographic observations of the natural world. They’ll be tagged and stamped with date, time and location information that scientists can use to track migrations, changes in the natural environment, seasonal trends and more.
Anyone can view the latest SciSpy field observations on an iPhone or on the Web at http://scispy.com. In order to participate in SciSpy by creating your own observations, commenting on other users’ submission, or flagging content that is inappropriate for the SciSpy community, you must create an account and log in to SciSpy.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Region covered: Global
Topic: General wildlife, plants, birds, bugs
Intern Review: Sci.Spy engages the users by setting up “missions” for the user to contribute content. Whether its general wildlife, plans, urban wildlife, birds, or bugs, sci.spy has a category that any average nature enthusiast can add his/her photos and observations. The application also allows you to see popular and recent sightings by other users. It does not have a map feature.
Product Description: iNaturalist helps you record your observations from the natural world and contribute them to iNaturalist.org, a social network for naturalists.
KEEP TRACK: iNaturalist lets you keep a log of the plants and animals you’ve encountered. Record the cool things you see as you hike around the countryside, then look back at the biodiversity you’ve experienced! The simple act of recording will help you remember and learn about nature.
WHAT’S THIS WEIRD BUG?!: The community can help you identify the things you see outside. Snap a picture with the app, send it to iNat, and you can get help deciding what you saw.
BUILD YOUR LIFE LIST: As you record observations, iNaturalist.org will automatically maintain a life list of all the organisms you’ve seen.
SAVE THE WORLD: Climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction threaten the biodiversity of our planet. You can help scientists, conservationists, and land managers just by recording where and when you observed living things.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Region covered: Global
Topic: Plants, Animals
Intern Review: This application pretty much serves as a mobile field journal, where users can jot down their own nature observations by adding a photo and a couple of quick notes. The phone or ipod triangulates the users positions and places a pin on a Google map to mark the observation location. The user does not even have to know the name of the species observed because it will be matched against iNaturalist’s database of species and other user content. This is a useful tool for helping new nature goers learn about interesting animals or plants they encounter.
Product Description: If you are in search of a particular bird, BirdsEye will show you where it has been observed, and even give you directions. BirdsEye will give you a list of birds seen nearby and a map of birding hotspots for any location in North America (the contiguous 48 states, Canada, and Alaska). The application includes images and audio for the 470 most frequently observed in North America. Additional content is available for more elusive birds—for a total of 847 species.
Maker: Birds in the Hand, LLC and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Compatibility: iPhone and iPod Touch
Region covered: Contiguous 48 states, Canada, and Alaska
Product Description: Leafsnap is the first in a series of electronic field guides being developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. This free mobile app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. Leafsnap contains beautiful high-resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruit, petiole, seeds, and bark. Leafsnap currently includes the trees of New York City and Washington, D.C., and will soon grow to include the trees of the entire continental United States.
Maker: Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution
Compatibility: iPhone and iPad
Region covered: New York City and Washington D.C.
Topic: Plants (trees)
Intern Review: LeafSnap has a lot of nice graphical pictures of all sorts of flora listed in alphabetical order. You just need to click the “browse” feature and a full color list shows up with leaves in alphabetical order according to their name, even including latin species names. One awesome feature is the games component of the application. This feature is a fun way for users to interact with nature. One game called “Green Sweep” gives a set time for users to try and move free-floating leaves into specific boxes with their species names on them. The other three games are matching challenges where users are given a flower, leaf, or fruit name and have to select the correct picture out of 4 different photos.
Product Description: The Zooniverse is home to the internet’s largest and most popular citizen science projects. The Zooniverse and the suite of projects it contains is produced and maintained by the Citizen Science Alliance. The member institutions of the CSA work with many academic and other partners around the world to produce projects that use the efforts and ability of volunteers to help scientists and researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them.
Maker: Citizen Science Alliance
Compatibility: Website, iPhone, Android
Region covered: The cosmos
Topic: Varied; space is a big emphasis
Intern Review: This application is pretty much a continuous questionnaire about pictures of galaxies. It does not seem that engaging or interactive. In the description for the application, it is described as a tool where users can interactively help scientists mine through countless amounts of data. It seems to do nothing but that function.
Encyclopedia of Life
Product Description: EOL is an ambitious project to organize and make freely available via the Internet information about all forms of life on Earth. The first version of the EOL iPhone app allows you to photograph organisms, and have the geotagged photos automatically uploaded to the EOL Flickr Group. EOL will periodically scan this Flickr group for new photos to add to the appropriate pages of the Encyclopedia of Life.
Maker: Natural Guides, LLC
Compatibility: iPhone, internet website
Region covered: planet earth
Topic: every species on the planet
Golden Gate Park Field Guide
Product Description: The Golden Gate Park Field Guide is the go-to mobile guide for navigating San Francisco’s thousand-acre urban oasis. The app highlights the park’s common wildlife, popular attractions, and hidden gems. It also invites users to actively engage with the park and to record and share their experiences.
Maker: Designed by Odopod and developed by SourceN for the California Academy of Sciences
Compatibility: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Region covered: Golden Gate Park in San Francisco
Topic: Plants, wildlife and popular attractions
Product Description: From your home screen, get daily updates from Botany Buddy about garden news, information and valuable gardening tips. The Botany Buddy Tree and Shrub Finder is simply the most powerful botanical field guide for Trees, Shrubs, and ground cover ever built. Now with over 9,500 unique images and 2,000 unique species of trees and shrubs, anyone with an interest in botany can easily find and identify the trees and shrubs for their needs.
Maker: AVAI Ventures Inc
Compatibility: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Region covered: N/A
Product Description: Florafolio 2 is an easy to use, interactive field guide to native plants of North Eastern North America. This edition focuses on the stunning variety of trees, shrubs, perennials, ferns, vines, and grasses that are indigenous to Eastern Canada and North Eastern United States. Florafolio is the perfect guide for anyone who wants to identify species in the wild or garden with native plants.
• Easily search for plants using Florafolio’s new search engine. In edition to searching for plants by common and Latin name you can now visually search by leaf shape, flower color, wildlife benefit, gardening use and a host of other options.
• Find out which states and provinces each plant is indigenous to though the new native distribution list.
• Easily see what plants attract birds and other wildlife.
• Browse through hundreds of ORIGINAL photos for easy identification and selection.
• Text based descriptions, care tips, growing instructions, and habitat notes are written in useful and approachable terms.
Maker: HoliMoli! Media
Region Covered: North America
Product Description: Great nature experiences are available at thousands of places carefully selected by NatureFind with user feedback. Descriptions, interactive maps, photos and other features are included. NatureFind guides you to parks, zoos, botanical gardens, nature centers, natural history museums, trails, wildlife refuges and more. And many offer nature experiences indoors through their displays, movies, exhibits and presentations. This guide also features many of the engaging, informative and exciting events that occur at these places. These events are affordable and available for all age groups. They range from challenging hikes or kayak trips to events for little kids.
Maker: Moonshadow eCommerce, Inc / Sapello, LLC
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch
Region covered: United States
Intern Review: The application appears to be broken on its “places feature.” After clicking on a specific places feature, the application will not go back to the previous search results. I have tried tapping it multiple times and it remains on the same place page. This application seems broken. The other features: Events, Map, and More appear to work though.
Audubon Field Guide Apps
Product Description: If it crawls, slithers, wiggles, flies, swims, bites, burrows, hops, it can be found in one or more of the Audubon Nature Guides. Great for birdwatching, hiking, and exploring the outdoors, guides feature high quality photographs, range maps, animal sounds and and the ability to create your own lifelists and record sightings. What are you waiting for? Start exploring your world with Audubon Mobile Field Guides. Apps displaying a (+) symbol on our website and on the iTunes Store are Universal Apps. When these apps are purchased, the download comes bundled with both the small screen and large screen versions.
Maker: National Audubon Society
Price: $19.99 for bundled apps, $14.99 for single apps on iphone/ipad, $9.99 for Android app
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android, HP Touchpad
Region covered: North America and specific regions (Florida, California, New England, Texas, Desert Southwest), African Wildlife
Topic: Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, Fish, Flowers, Trees, Amphibians, Insects
Product Description: This Wildlife Observation app makes it very easy for you to report your sightings and identify species, and your observations show up on National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Watch website. It’s one of the only apps that allows you to report sightings without having a photo and it also tags your location if you so desire.
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Android
Region covered: North America and UK
Topic: All Wildlife
Intern Review: This application does a nice job of creating a community around nature observations with features under the “Wildlife” heading such as Community: Featured Encounters, where particularly well documented encounters posted by users are featured, and Community: Recent Encounters, where recent nature encounters by users are posted. There are also helpful tools for locating nearby species under the “species” heading. An account does have to be created to run this application.
Product Description: Powered by EveryTrail.com, Trailhead finds trails, hikes, bike routes and more based on your location. You can even search by activity and length. Whether you’ve selected an existing trip or started a new one, Trailhead tracks your route, distance, speed and elevation in real-time. When you’re done exploring, you can post your trip to Facebook, Twitter or EveryTrail.com.
• Search from over 300,000 trails, hikes and bike routes.
• Find trips by activity, length and location
• Track your route with a real-time interactive map via GPS
• View your distance, speed, elevation and more
• Post photos taken on your trip
• Share your trip to Facebook, Twitter and EveryTrail.com
• Find outdoor events in your area with Planet Explore
Maker: The North Face
Compatibility: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch
Region covered: North America